Olmert and Peres Head for Petra

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Shimon Peres are scheduled to travel to Petra in Jordan today to attend an annual gathering of Nobel Peace laureates. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was also invited but he canceled his participation at the last minute.

Due to the cancellation, Olmert will meet with King Abdullah at his palace in Aqaba, and not at Petra, as originally planned.

This will be the first time Olmert meets with a foreign leader since the publication of the interim report of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War.

The king and Olmert will discuss the revival of the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, the Arab peace initiative and the role that moderate Arab states can play in such a process.

Olmert intends to invite King Abdullah to visit Israel, reiterating the invitation he made over the telephone several weeks ago.

Political sources in Jerusalem said yesterday that the king is not expected to visit Israel in the near future.

Peres will meet with the king separately on Sunday at a conference of the World Economic Forum in Jordan.

Peres will discuss his Peace Valley plan with King Abdullah, which calls for a canal connecting the Gulf of Aqaba with the Dead Sea and the development of industrial and tourist projects along its banks and economic cooperation between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Upon his return from the event in Petra during the afternoon, Olmert will participate in a major Israel Defense Forces war game, which will test readiness to deal with multiple threats on several fronts.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is planning a trip to the region in June, according to information received yesterday from Washington.

American officials said that her visit had been postponed because of the political crisis in Israel.

Meanwhile. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said yesterday that an Arab peace plan was no substitute for direct negotiations with the Palestinians, and urged Arab leaders to prod the Palestinians into making concessions with Israel.

Livni spoke yesterday at the first Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting that was open to the media.

She added it would not be possible to end the conflict with the Palestinians with a military incursion into the Gaza Strip. Instead, she said, a military action would only cause damage and bolster extremists.